Year Joined MKLM: 1993
City: João Pessoa
Focus: Healthcare and Health Promotion, Education and Leadership
Project(s): AFYA Women’s Holistic Health Center — wellness ministry, prevention, healing, income generation.
Goals of ministry:
To provide accessible courses, classes and retreats in various holistic health therapies including hatha yoga, shantala and reflexology at AFYA Women’s Holistic Health Center and other locations in João Pessoa and online.
Many people who participate in this ministry have physical and emotional health challenges that have been exacerbated in some cases by the pandemic. High levels of stress and uncertainty increased the number of people who suffer from anxiety. The ministry provides access to holistic health experiences for folks who may not have the economic resources to invest in services/trainings. According to the World Health Organization, Brazil is considered the most anxious country in the world and the fifth most depressive. Even before COVID-19, 19 million Brazilians were living with anxiety and/or depression.
Searching to combine social work and advocacy in overseas service work in a faith community led Kathy to Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1993. She reflects, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to be in mission. My spirituality is nourished by ever-widening circles of people and cultures, which are interwoven with stories of pain, transformation and God’s abundant love.”
Kathy is committed to making holistic healing therapies and professional training more accessible to diverse populations. She works at AFYA Women’s Holistic Center on the periphery of João Pessoa. The center was founded by women — including Maryknoll Sisters and local women — 22 years ago and operates as a cooperative. At AFYA she teaches chair yoga, facilitates retreats, and offers reflexology and shantala courses and workshops. Many of the participants in her courses are seeking skills training to increase their economic opportunities. She also works with the coordinator on social media strategy to increase AFYA’s visibility and sustainability and co-manages Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Instagram account.
Kathy teaches relaxation techniques — including yoga, breathing exercises, massage and meditation — to help people manage stress in many forums, including pregnant women circles at local public health posts and online courses sponsored by NGOs and other institutions.
One focus of her ministry is accompanying pregnant women and moms of newborns who live in marginalized communities. She teams up with public health agents to identify pregnant women and moms with newborns with health issues who would benefit from learning the shantala baby massage method. The method promotes maternal bonding while providing many other benefits, including increasing immunity, helping to develop motor skills, and relieving intestinal gases. She also facilitates health courses that promote breastfeeding, care of newborns, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and issues related to mental health such as post-partum depression. She provides training to professionals and students who work in the health field in a project for at-risk babies and their families.
A new focus of her ministry is teaching chair yoga classes in social inclusion projects such as Citizen Access of the NGO AC Social. The mixed classes for people with disabilities and everyone else offer movement, conscious breathing and meditation to promote integral health, body awareness and relaxation for a population that is often excluded from yoga and physical exercise classes.
Originally from Battle Creek, Michigan, Kathy graduated from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, with a double major in finance and Spanish literature. Immediately after college, she volunteered for two years at a community center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she co-founded an artisan cooperative for women and coached youth volleyball teams. Before joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1993, Kathy worked at Bread for the World, a citizen’s lobby focused on hunger issues.
Kathy met Flávio Rocha while working on a social justice project in Brazil. They married in 2000 and moved to Berkeley, California. While there, Kathy was Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Western regional recruiter and active in Holy Spirit Newman Parish. Flávio joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2003, and they returned to Brazil in 2004. Their daughter, Maya, was born there in 2005. Kathy worked in João Pessoa from 1994 to 2001 and 2004 to 2010.
They served as missioners in São Paulo from 2010 to 2018, where Kathy worked in women’s prisons on health issues. Kathy served as one of the two member representatives on the Board of Directors from 2012 until 2017. In early 2019 they returned to João Pessoa to reopen the Maryknoll Lay Missioners presence there.
Kathy has a master’s certificate in organization leadership from Villanova University and 630 hours of Yoga Teacher Training. In 2021 she completed a 30-hour accessible yoga training from the Yoga Alliance provider Accessible Yoga Training.